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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Push From Behind


Councilwoman Fuller concerned about redistricting

The Shreveport City Council selected a new district map that created five majority-black voting districts and two majority-white districts in the city at its June 14 meeting.

District B Councilwoman LeVette Fuller has concerns about the new district lines, but she is more concerned about the transparency of the process through which those lines were adopted.

“I want to drive home the fact that we should question the intent of this based in part on the lack of transparency that has transpired,” she said.

Fuller said the variations on the district maps that the city council considered were only made available for public review on the city’s website the Friday before the council’s vote. She said that in the past, the council held several open public conversations leading up to redistricting.

“If you are confident in what you are doing, and your motivations for doing it, transparency should not be a problem,” Fuller said. “I think that’s probably more important than any opinion I might have on it. What do the actions say about this entire process?”

Five majority-black districts create the potential for 70 percent black representation on the council. The 2020 Census data shows Shreveport has a 57 percent black majority population. Fuller said council representation should better reflect the community.

“I think it’s completely fair and valid for everyone to feel like they have an opportunity for fair representation,” she said. “That starts with how the maps are drawn. But that map puts us at 57 percent black. And a 57 percent black presentation would be a 4-3 majority.

“I think that what’s fair is to go where the math takes you. I like data. I think that it’s fair to follow the numbers.”

Fuller said she thinks the city should have the opportunity for majority black representation but that this move goes too far.

“Where we are, with five out of seven, it’s the pendulum swinging the other way to the point where you could say it’s an overcorrection,” she said. “It might be an overcorrection because it makes some people feel safer that they have a guarantee of that fair representation, or more potential for that. But it might be an overcorrection that leads you to the point of being vindictive. That remains to be seen.”

Fuller added that she anticipated a legal challenge to the district maps and pointed out Louisiana’s congressional redistricting efforts as an example.

“If on the federal level we are saying we don’t have proportionate representation, and we have a court order to prepare district maps for Congress that include two majority black demographic districts instead of one, then it would be fair to assume that a judge would say we have overcorrected and that we should be a 4-3, not a 5-2,” she said.

In addition to the demographic makeup of the new council districts, Fuller expressed concern that downtown Shreveport’s Riverfront area is divided into two council districts under the new map. The new map moves the casinos from District B into District A. The issue, she said, is one of common interests.

“Ultimately, we are talking about a retail business environment that is a tax revenue-producing environment,” she said. “On the other side of Cross Bayou, you have an industrial district and a residential district, Cherokee Park. How productive is that? And how much alike are those interests, compared to the interests of casinos and the rest of the downtown area, which includes an entertainment district? Those are the questions I have about that. That was my primary reason for not supporting the map that we ended up adopting.”

It is as damaging as dividing similar residential areas, she said.

“When you start splitting neighborhoods, it makes it hard for people to know not just who represents them, it’s how do you leverage your collective impact to make things happen?” she said. “The more divided, the weaker that neighborhood becomes.”

The new map was approved on a 4-3 vote. The three no votes were Fuller, District C Councilman John Nickelson and District D Councilman Grayson Boucher.

The map council members selected was designated “9B” among 13 maps created by demographer and LSUS professor Gary Joiner. He suggested a map that would have created three majority-black districts, three majority-white districts and one “swing” district.

District E still is considered a swing district on the new map because of the near 50-50 split between white and black residents, although the district still has a majority black population. Councilman Alan Jackson currently represents District E. The last person elected by District E constituents was the late James Flurry.

Fuller said residents should reexamine the transparency of the process in order to make progress.

“People who elected us because they thought we were going to be transparent should look at who has been transparent,” she said. “If we want to move forward and have any sort of unity, unity has to be around the truth. We cannot unify around ideas that aren’t completely valid.”

Unity begins with more people getting involved, Fuller said.

“People are going to have to vote their conscience,” she said. “But they also have to speak up and be active. Whoever is elected, reelected, whatever, the public can’t be complacent (in November). You might not like who you end up with. You might not feel like you have any candidates you are in love with or excited about. But what those candidates are going to need is a strong community emailing, speaking in public meetings, being really vocal on everything.

“Moving forward isn’t going to be about who’s sitting in those seats. It’s going to be about whose pressing on those people from behind.”


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